Film Review: Anonymous

Flick to the cinema section of the Hot Mess dictionary, and there you will find an entry for Anonymous. Roland Emmerich’s hymn to ludicrousness is a camp fiasco.

In Elizabethan London, William Shakespeare is an actor, performing in the plays of others. Edward, Earl of Oxford is a secret playwright, looking for an anonymous way for to make his plays public. Initially recruiting Ben Jonson to act as author, William Shakespeare happily plays the part when Jonson shows reluctance…

The problem with the Anonymous is manifold. Firstly, there is the absurd narrative. While it is not inconceivable that Shakespeare’s works were written by another, the story descends into farce while most of the cast try to keep a straight face. Taking liberties with historical fact, Emmerich has created a Tudor melodrama, with its ever so earnest heroes and comedy villains.

Perhaps the problem is that William Shakespeare is a much loved and respected icon. Making a mockery of the man was always likely to go down badly among sections of the audience. If the film had tried to retain a shred of realism, perhaps it would not have been so offensive. Instead, the film becomes more and more absurd as it progresses.

The character of Shakespeare in the film is unfathomable. To portray him as a bumbling idiot would be one thing. Instead, Emmerich has taken it to a whole other level with Rafe Spall’s Russell Brand impersonation. It seems as if Spall is almost playing for laughs, and makes the film an experiment in high camp.

Performances in Anonymous are generally subpar. Sebastian Armesto, Helen Baxendale, Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Hogg and Rafe Spall all play as if the film was a soap opera. As Earl of Oxford, Rhys Ifans is the only one who appears to be taking things seriously. There is some nice staging but at times locations and sets look terribly artificial. Production values are otherwise fine.

Taken as a serious drama, Anonymous is an awful film. As a farce, Emmerich’s film is rather enjoyable as you anticipate the next comical twist.

Anonymous is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.

Film Review: Coriolanus

Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut Coriolanus is a modern-day adaptation of the Shakespeare’s play using the Bard’s original language. The film is skillfully produced but unfortunately rather dull.

Caius Martius is a respected member of the Roman army, well known for his bravery. Succeeding on his most recent mission to defend Rome from the Volscian uprising, the soldier is bestowed with the name Coriolanus and encouraged to run for consul. Angering the populace and with politicians as enemies, Coriolanus is in for a rough ride…

Coriolanus is a solid debut from Fiennes. Notwithstanding, there is a major problem with the film in that it can be a little boring at times. It feels too drawn out as a whole to hold one’s attention for the entire duration. While the battle scenes are frenetic, some of the dialogue-heavy scenes are far too prolonged. There are sine good scenes, such as the crowd polling one, but others go on for too long and slacken the entire film’s momentum.

The contemporary setting of Coriolanus works well, although it is unusual and unintentionally humorous to hear news reader Jon Snow speak in Shakespearean verse. Some of the issues covered by the film, such as the duty of public servants, are very pertinent for modern audiences. The battle scenes are full throttle, with Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography reminiscent of his work in The Hurt Locker.

Ralph Fiennes delivers a powerhouse performance in the title role. Excellent support is provided by Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Cox. Jessica Chastain is also decent as ever, but underused in her minor role.

In one way, it was a wise move to adapt Coriolanus; unlike a lot of Shakespeare’s work, not all will be familiar with it. There is an element of unpredictability which is missing from adaptations of the Bard’s more famous works. Nevertheless, Coriolanus is not the most interesting of stories as not an awful lot happens in the two-hour running time.

Coriolanus is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.

Coriolanus Trailer

Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus is due for release on 20th January 2012. I saw footage from the film at Empire Big Screen, and it looks pretty interesting. Although Shakespearean dialogue in the modern day has been done before (1997’s Romeo + Juliet for example), it still appears a little unusual. Nonetheless, it is refreshing that Fiennes has chosen to adapt one of Shakespeare’s lesser know works. I for one will have no idea how the narrative will pan out. The film stars Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Cox.